Tag Archives: Triathlon rules

Triathlon and transgender athletes

Before I begin I want to acknowledge that there are some transgender triathletes who will strongly disagree with my views on the topic of member protection in triathlon. While anyone who disagrees with me is entitled to those views, I ask you respect mine and that you take the time to consider what I write about in full rather than having a gut-reaction.


One of the things I am grateful for is that I live in a society and time where being a transgender person does not prevent me from participating in my chosen sport: triathlon. The sport’s governing bodies at both an international and domestic level took proactive steps in the past to ensure that transgender triathletes, spectators, coaches and officials are protected by member protection policies.

In by-law 7.5 of the Triathlon Australia Member Protection By-Law, Triathlon Australia states that:

Triathlon Australia is committed to providing an inclusive sporting environment where transgender or transsexual people involved in its activities are able to contribute and participate.

And goes on to say that:

We will not tolerate any unlawful discrimination or harassment against a person who identifies as transgender or transsexual or who is thought to be transgender or transsexual.

[section snipped for brevity]

If any person feels they are being harassed or discriminated against by another person or organisation bound by this policy, please refer to our complaints procedure outlined in Part D of this policy. This will explain what to do about the behaviour and how Triathlon Australia will deal with the problem.

In my opinion this is a powerful statement of protection. One that helps me know that I can safely train for and attend triathlon events without fear of my slightly different body or history being cause for harassment or discrimination. See, I don’t have a ‘package’ where most men have one and it’s quite obvious in my tri-suit. Though I have to say, in the 6 months I’ve been back in the sport, I’ve not had any issues at all. If anyone has noticed my unflattering lack of size they certainly haven’t said or done anything about it.

Triathlon Australia follows the ITU’s policies in relation to whether transgender men and women are exempt from doping rules and which gender categories we may compete in. The ITU, for it’s part, seems to follow the rulings of the International Olympic Committee.

For transgender men (i.e. people born with female bodies who live as men), the rules state that we must compete in the men’s categories. This makes sense to me because as a person who identifies as a man I would not want to compete with the women (only because I’m not a woman – not for any derogatory reason). We don’t have to make any declarations about  being transgender – we just enter the event as a man (though I have had correspondence with both Triathlon Australia and Triathlon Qld to clarify the rules).

The only issue arises if we compete at world championship events because these events can be subject to random drug testing. In these instances, we must satisfy the ASADA (the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority) that we are taking testosterone (or any other sport-illegal drug) for therapeutic use. In my case, it’s unlikely I will ever again rise to that level of competition, but if I do my entire hormone level history is available right back to 1997 when I started taking testosterone under medical supervision. Those test results would show I have not used the drug for performance enhancement (if anything, my dose has been slightly lowered over the past few years).

For transgender women the situation is more complex. However, I believe the ITU and Triathlon Australia have worked well to find a balance between the need to allow transgender women to compete and the need for an even playing field for all competitors, including biological women.The rules state that;

Any transgendered (male-to-female) person wishing to compete in Triathlon competition sanctioned by TA may do so under the following conditions –

1. Compete as a male, and be eligible for prizes offered to participants in the applicable category (ie. elite or age group)


2. Upon satisfaction of certain criteria, compete as a female, however any placings in the applicable category will not be recognised and the competitor will not be eligible for prizes. The criteria that must be satisfied in order to compete in this way are –

(a) The competitor must provide written verification from a source approved by TA (eg. a certificate from a suitably qualified medical practitioner) that they haveundergone a medical or surgical procedure to alter the gender characteristics of a male, so as to be identified as a female; and

(b) Provide a statutory declaration from the competitor that –

(i) They believe that their true gender is that of a female; and

(ii) They have adopted the lifestyle of a female.

However, transgender women may compete for prizes as women if they meet both these criteria (from 2) and meet the criteria in section 3:

3.Upon satisfying the criteria set out in 2 above, and the extra criteria set out below, the competitor may compete as a female and have their placings in the applicable category recognised, and be eligible for prizes. The extra criteria they must satisfy to compete in this way is –

(a) They must provide a medical opinion from a suitably qualified medical practitioner or exercise physiologist (the person must be independent and authoritative in this field of assessment) which verifies to TA’s reasonable satisfaction that having regard to the competitive nature of the sport of triathlon, that the competitor would have no significant performance advantage in competing as a female consequent to their medical history and gender background.

(b) Provide the identity and qualification of the suitably qualified medical practitioner or exercise physiologist providing the opinion to TA.

While there are those who consider this approach to be discriminatory against transgender women, I personally believe that the real issue is that there:

  • is nothing stopping any transgender man or woman from participating in triathlon in the gender with which we identify
  • are rules that specifically prohibit discrimination against transgender men and women.

These are things to be celebrated.

Early in my transition these rules would have incensed me. I would have gone off on my high horse and argued that the rules discriminated against transgender people and blah blah blah. If truth be told, I probably did rant about these rules when I was younger (trust me, second puberty is worse than the first because adults have more practice with venom than teenagers).

However, as I have come to see myself as a normal part of humanity I have come to realise that, while I deserve respect as a transgender man, I also have to respect the rights of others. And if there was a performance benefit to taking testosterone or (in the case of a transgender woman) starting life in a male body, then that advantage needs to be made more fair for those who were born biological men and women. Because they also have rights as athletes.

I am grateful that the governing bodies of triathlon decided to make by-laws that both protect the safety of transgender athletes and that try to secure an even playing field for all involved in our sport (both transgender men and women, and biological men and women).

QTS Race 4 – Robina

I mumble expletives as the sound of my alarm intrudes my dreams. I complain that I don’t have to get up because it’s Sunday morning. Then I remember that it’s 3am and I have to get up to go to Robina for a triathlon. I’m not racing today; I’m volunteering as a technical official.

My uniform of black shorts and navy polo shirt are laid out ready for me to pull on. I wolf down a quick breakfast. It’s difficult to stomach my cereal at this early hour but I force it down knowing that I won’t have much chance to eat again until after the races are finished in the mid-morning. When I walk out to the garage I look up and see some stars in the sky so I decide not to carry my wet weather gear with me. It’s a decision I regret ten minutes later when the heavens open. For the next hour the rain alternates between stinging sideways rain that feels like needles piercing through my jacket and huge plops of rain that feel like buckets of water pouring over me. It’s a long hour.

It’s 4:45am and the race venue is quiet in the grey dawn. For these brief few moments the only people moving around are the event coordinators, technical officials, and catering companies selling coffee and snacks. I grab a lime green official’s vest out of the box and mingle with my fellow technical officials. By the time we’ve received our race briefing and roles the triathletes and their supporters have started arrive. Excitement and colour now fill the air.

5:15am. We open transition. It’s game time. For the next 75 minutes we are crazy busy making sure everyone’s helmets fit correctly and their bikes pass a brief visual safety inspection. Helmets, brakes and bar-end plugs will all be important on today’s wet, tight and technical bike course. We don’t know it yet but there will be at least 15 crashes just on the one roundabout near transition and countless more out on the rest of the course.

Almost as soon as transition closes the Kool Kids race starts. I am tasked to help make sure the little tackers get in and out of the bike transition safely. It’s fun to watch the kids riding their Ben10 and Barbie BMXes out onto the course. It’s a reminder that triathlon is not a sport to be played for sheep stations but a sport to be enjoyed for the fun and challenge.

After the Kool Kids are finished it’s time for the older kids and adults to head out onto the course in the Enticer event. This is a short version of the main race aimed at juniors and adults in their first few races. My task for the rest of the day is to ride on the back of a motorbike ensuring that everyone follows the rules on the cycle course. It’s my first time on the bike leg but I’m paired with a rider who has 20 years experience as a cycle course official and I learn a lot from him.

The course today is tight, flat, fast, technical and wet. It rains while we are out there and I get soaked again. We spend hours working hard to make sure the bike leg is safe and fair. It’s a pleasure to see some seriously skilled cyclists flying along and to see some seriously cool bicycles out on the course. As a competitor I only see bikes whiz past me so it’s a change to be able to appreciate the beauty that is the harmony between athlete and machine in full flight.

So what are the basic bike course rules? They are actually not much different from the the road rules (note: we drive on the left in Australia. I think that if you live in right-side of the road countries you probably cycle on the right).

  1. Keep to the left. Sitting in the middle of the road when other cyclists are trying to pass you is blocking and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
  2. Keep your distance from the rider in front. If the cycle leg is 40km or less the draft zone is 7m long. If the cycle leg is more than 40km the draft zone is 12m. Riding within this zone is drafting and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
  3. Pass on the right. Passing on the left is illegal and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
  4. Pass quickly and safely. You must be gaining ground on the cyclist you are passing. You have 15 seconds to pass the cyclist if the draft zone is 7m and 25 seconds if it is 12m. Failing to observe this is drafting and you may be given a 3 minute penalty for it.
  5. If you are overtaken by a faster rider, you are responsible for dropping back outside the draft zone. You must also drop back outside the draft zone before you are allowed to overtake the rider who has just passed you. If you don’t, you may be penalised for drafting (3 minute penalty).

It sounds like a lot to remember but the best way to approach the cycle leg is to remember that triathlon is an individual sport so the bike leg is a time trial not a pack race and the usual road rules apply.

By 10:30am our morning is over and it’s time to go home. I’m worn out from the early start, rain and concentration. I know I’ll enjoy my afternoon nap as much as I enjoyed my morning at the race.